Top 5 NBA MVP Candidates

After a whirlwind of important games this past week with San Antonio, Miami, Chicago, Orlando and the L.A. Lakers all revealing more about themselves, the pictures are coming together. It is about time we took a look at the best MVP candidates. While there is still a possibility these rankings will change in the final month of the regular season, don’t expect anyone new to break into this group. The MVP will almost surely be given to one of these five players.

1. Derrick Rose
Essentials: 24.6 ppg, 8.1 apg, 43-18 record
Has there been a more improved player this year? Rose took what he had and supercharged it. Now, the Bulls are on the brink of the best record in the East even as Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer have missed a combined 48 games. Take a look at the names of some of Rose’s rotation teammates: Keith Bogans, Ronnie Brewer, C.J. Watson and Kurt Thomas. Rose has that team not only squarely in the playoffs – which is an accomplishment in itself – but he has them nipping on the Celtics’ heels for the best record in the conference. His PER has jumped four points to 22.79 and he has already made over five times as many threes as he did all of last season. Remember just a year or so ago when no one believed Rose would become Deron Williams and Chris Paul‘s superior? It has happened. And it happened faster than anyone could’ve expected.

2. Dwight Howard
Essentials: 26.40 PER, 23.1 ppg, 13.9 rpg, 40-23 record
If you want to take the MVP strictly fundamentally – the player who is most valuable to his team – then this is your man. No one does more for their team than Howard. Whereas Rose is an incredible offensive player who sets the tone for Chicago’s attacking and businesslike approach, Howard is carrying a team on both ends and has the Magic third in the league in defensive efficiency, despite a lineup of players not known for anything on that end. Orlando is littered with overrated guys who seem unable to find ways to consistently play off their center. And I don’t think there is any question that Howard has grown into being, by far, the best big man in the League. His PER has jumped all the way to 26.40, just centimeters behind LeBron James for tops in the league. He’s averaging 23.1 points, including a terrorizing stretch during February that caused some people to re-evaluate what his ceiling was. Howard is improving as the season moves along. I’m betting that within the next two weeks, Howard’s buzz will grow so strong that he will have a chance to overtake Rose. The only setback is the up-and-down struggles of his team.

3. LeBron James
Essentials: 26.92 PER, 26.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 7.1 apg, 43-20 record
James in the best individual player in the league. But, because two other guys have taken their games above and beyond, he is only third on this list. Unless Miami is able to finish with the East’s top seed, which doesn’t appear likely after a four-game losing streak, don’t expect James to win his third-straight MVP. There have been too many crunch-time failures and impossible expectations left unmet. His play has dipped slightly this season, as have pretty much all of his numbers, but that was expected coming to Miami. The hate for LeBron right now is too strong and will ultimately cost him a shot at another MVP trophy. But down the road when he hits his inevitable redemption period, all of this hate will transform into something positive.

4. Dirk Nowitzki
Essentials: Mavs- 0-7 without Dirk in lineup, highest shooting %s of career, 22.9 ppg
Take Nowitzki off the Mavericks, who have gone 19-4 since he regained his health from a sprained right knee, and everyone is affected. His shooting opens up the court for Jason Terry and Jason Kidd, and his ability to play off the ball first allowed Caron Butler and now Shawn Marion to flourish. Nowitzki’s problem is that he has been so consistently good for so long – 11 straight years averaging somewhere around 23 points and 9 rebounds – that people take him for granted. Even when he is the anchor of perhaps the league’s most surprising team, Nowitzki would have to do something otherworldly to move up any further in these rankings. But while his shooting percentages have climbed to career highs, his scoring is still slightly down and more importantly, his rebounding has dropped to just 6.6 a game.

5. Amar’e Stoudemire
Essentials: 23.81 PER, 26.2 ppg, 2.1 bpg, 32-29 record
After the first four guys, the candidate list drops off significantly. Stoudemire is the best of the rest, averaging a career-high in points despite the trade turmoil in the Big Apple. He’s here because he changed a depressing vibe in New York City and turned the Knicks into a playoff team. Carmelo Anthony has taken much of the spotlight off him, but the former Sun’s performance from the season’s first half remains. At that point, STAT was getting MVP consideration. His usage rate is the highest it’s ever been (28.4) and is easily the highest number among post players. But, it’s hard to grab the league’s most coveted individual honor when your team doesn’t look like it will win more than 45 games. It wasn’t long ago that everyone believed it was Steve Nash who made Stoudemire. Be thankful we will never hear that sorry argument again.

Who do you think should win MVP?

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